All About Walk-In Clinics

By Sandra Fletcher

Last week, after I'd spent a long day at work feeling like “the walking dead” (headachy, dizzy and nauseated), I drove myself to one of the walk-in clinics near my home. The waiting room was crowded with 3 separate families, and I dreaded to think how long it would take for me to be seen by a doctor.

An hour later I’d seen the doctor, and met the interesting people who were waiting with me, too.

The first was a mother and teenage son who came to the clinic each week. The mother is diabetic, and has a foot injury which the doctor examines each week for infection while he checks her blood sugars. Her son acts as a helper, remembering things that his mother, because of her age, might forget.

Second was a family of newcomers from Haiti. Mom and Dad were there with their daughter, a sleeping toddler, and their school age son who had an ear infection. This was their first experience at a walk-in clinic.

Finally, I met an elderly mother from China and her two adult daughters who were acting as interpreters. Their mother hadn’t been feeling well for days and they had brought her to the walk-in clinic for diagnosis.

The doctor who met with us was a newcomer herself, in the sense that she’d gone to medical school in Russia and had spent the best part of a decade becoming a doctor in Canada. Her sensitivity to the challenges faced by newcomers made her a great fit in this particular walk-in clinic, where, as she told me, over 50% of their patients were new to Canada.

The doctors and nurses at walk-in clinics have to be trained in most types of medical specialties. They can see everything from a sprained ankle to a cold, infections to chronic disease management (like diabetes), and the flu to skin rashes. Their patients can be elderly men, tiny babies, pregnant women. It’s important that these physicians are not only well trained, but also able to refer patients who need emergency or specialized treatments to the right places for more help.

Walk-in clinics are intended for people who don’t currently have a family doctor - or can't get an appointment with their family doctor - and need medical care. They are for “non-emergency” situations. Often you can just walk in, without an appointment, even after normal business hours and on weekends. Things like flu, coughs and colds, minor injuries, and long-term medical issues can be treated at a walk-in clinic.

If you find that you have an emergency situation, a walk-in clinic might not be the right place to go. Urgent problems such as bleeding, eye injuries, wounds, broken limbs, and things that might need x-rays or lab tests should be dealt with at a hospital emergency room (ER). An ER can see you without an appointment like a walk-in clinic, and they are open 24 hours a day. You may need to wait in an ER, based on the severity of your medical condition and the seriousness of the other patient conditions.

Walk-in clinics can be a good source of resources. You will need a Provincial Health Card to obtain access to any medical services. The clinic may be able to show you where to apply for them, and also refer you to community services for settlement assistance, food banks and support in your community.

Walk-in clinics can also provide access to mental health services. When a psychological crisis occurs, you may not know where to turn or who to speak to. The doctors at a clinic can help in a crisis and can refer you to mental health services and programs. They are accessible for urgent mental health care and treatment.

When I left the walk-in clinic that day I had met some interesting people. And thanks to my new doctor, I’d learned more about how useful the clinics can be as a part of the healthcare community. I felt much better the next day; and I hope all my fellow patients did as well!

Find a walk-in clinic near you: Click anywhere on this article for the Settlement Roadmap Health Care Guide, and select your province to find walk-in clinics and more.

This story is from the "Health Care" InfoBlock. To read more stories on this topic, click here.